Picture this: you are living in the world’s most idyllic Caribbean island of Grand Cayman and daydreaming while sitting on the patio of your Ritz-Carlton condo watching another perfect sunset over the pristine Seven Mile Beach and azure waters of the Caribbean Sea. What images are floating through your mind? Perhaps playing golf in the early morning, or going diving on the spectacular North Wall, or swimming with the rays at Stingray City, or flying over to Little Cayman and fly-casting for bonefish, or lazing in a beach hammock reading the latest bestseller, or playing ice hockey on a frozen pond in -20F weather?
What? Playing ice hockey on a frozen pond in -20F weather.
Yes, that’s exactly what the men’s ice hockey team from the Cayman Islands has been dreaming of the past year. Captain Bill Messer, Norm Klein, Marty Goschl and Joe Stasiuk are heading to the ice barrens of Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, Canada to play in the World Pond Hockey Championships (Feb. 18-20). Traditionally the event hosts teams mostly from Canada and the USA, but for the first time will feature teams from the Cayman Islands and England.
Messer had found out about the tournament from last year’s front page Wall Street Journal article and was immediately hooked. ‘When I read about the tourney, it automatically took me back about 30 years ago and growing up in Canada. Being a kid in the wintertime meant hockey after school on the pond with your best friends’, he said. ‘I knew we had to get a team from here rounded up and entered for the next one’, Messer concluded.
Messer had grown up in rural Tisdale, Saskatchewan, a small town 250 miles north of the US-Canada border. Messer jokes that Tisdale was a place where, ‘…finding a frozen pond was never a problem’. He fondly remembers playing for Team Saskatchewan in the 1979 Canada Cup Midget Championships. Upon arrival in the Cayman Islands over 10 years ago to work in the financial services industry, he played ball hockey with a number of Canadian expatriate friends and buddies that were also former competitive ice hockey players, including Goschl, Klein and Stasiuk. Marty Goschl, originally from Oshawa, Ontario played in Newcastle-Cobourg region and was selected to their team in the 1978 All-Ontario Midget Ice Hockey Championships. He now owns his own landscaping company on Grand Cayman.
Norm Klein is now a lawyer with Appleby-Spurling-Hunter in Grand Cayman, and hails from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Norm played in the 1972 Northern Ontario Minor Atom Ice Hockey Championships with teammate and future NHL Hall-of-Famer Ron Francis.
Joe Stasiuk, born in Toronto, Ontario, played minor hockey with the Toronto Blues and ‘junior pro’ with the Toronto Marlies organization before attending Princeton University. He played against Wayne Gretzky in the 1977 Metro Toronto Jr. B All-Star Game, and was the MVP of the Orange County Phantoms who won the Inaugural 1988 and 1989 North American Hockey Association Championships. Stasiuk is the President of the Cayman Islands Sports Development Company that stages world-class sports events, including the recently staged ‘Splash & Dash’ that featured US Olympic and World Champions Allen Johnson, Neil Walker and Nate Dusing.
The name of the team, ‘Cayman Islands Breakaway’, was used to evoke images of the most exciting move in hockey and a captivating Cayman Islands warm-weather holiday. While Hurricane Ivan ravaged Grand Cayman on September 11-12th, 2004, the island has been steadily rebuilding and the hotel and cruise ship industries are ready again to welcome tourists to the islands.
Messer believes Cayman can compete well. ‘I think we will be able to hold our own, and we certainly wouldn’t be going if we weren’t willing to give everything we got.’ Between now and the tournament, the Cayman Breakaway Team will be flying on weekends to get some ice time and train. While there is a new arena facility in Grand Cayman, there is no ice-making capability.
Messer added, ‘I hope we bring back some great memories and make plenty of friends in Plaster Rock. We do intend to be remembered as the team giving out the best hospitality bags to each of the teams we meet, and perhaps we will plan to give out the bags the night before!’ Inside the bags will be both Tortuga Rum and Tortuga Rum Cakes.